REVIEW: X-Men Days of Future Past
Increasingly, studios want you to stream or buy your own digital copy of feature films and to entice you, that edition is being made weeks prior to the physical disc being available for purchase. In an effort to direct viewer buying and viewing habits, studios are also shifting review copies from disc to high definition download. My first encounter with this brave new world, ironically enough, comes with 20th Century Home Entertainment’s current release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the sprawling, epic film from May. The biggest drawback is making certain you have enough hard disc storage for the mammoth file and a set-up that allows you to watch on a huge screen. Lacking that, I watched the film on my 24” external monitor and while the image was crisp and the audio clear enough (although maybe I need to upgrade my speakers); it needs a bigger screen to properly appreciate.
Bryan Singer returned to the franchise and pulled out all the stops, successfully adapting the Chris Claremont/John Byrne story while seamlessly integrating it with the four preceding feature films. He directed the first two while Brett Ratner mishandled X-Men: Last Stand and Matthew Vaughn wonderfully rebooted the franchise with X-Men: First Class.
As we toggle between past, present, and future, we understand that in the 1970s, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) convinces Congress to fund his Sentinels program to root out mutants, who threaten “our” way of life. Once his program goes live, it grows, morphing with the times, until the future is a dark land of devastation, with the last handful of mutants on the run and losing their battle with extinction. In a final desperate act, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) uses her powers (in ways that never quite made sense) to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to derail the program. In order to do this, he needs to reconcile Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) with Erik Lenscherr (Michael Fassbender) but first, Magneto needs to be freed from confinement under the Pentagon and to accomplish this, they need help from young mutant Pietro (Evan Peters).
It becomes several races against time as ideologies are heated debated in one era while the Sentinels locate the planet’s last mutants and approach, forcing many a heroic sacrifice to buy Kitty the time she needs to keep Wolverine in the past, protected by Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan).
The casts are blended fairly well and even though the story may make a civilian’s head throb; it’s a fairly coherent story, well-told thanks to a strong script largely from Simon Kinberg, Singer’s direction, and a cast that is up to the task. It’s nice to see familiar faces such as Halle Berry’s Storm and cameos like Kelsey Grammer’s Beast. Page is under-utilized here, sweating and trembling but given little else to do. As befits his stature in the Marvel Universe, it’s really Wolverine’s story and Jackman is up to the challenge, once more better served in the ensemble than either of his solo films. The other spotlight is on young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) who is trying to carve her own path which sharply diverges from that of her mentor, Xavier. She becomes the threat that needs stopping, not Trask and Lawrence is deadly and vulnerable at the same time.
The high def version and forthcoming Blu-ray features several nifty extras, starting with an extended Kitchen sequence (6:00) that got trimmed but explores many of the film’s issues and themes as debated between Xavier and mystique with Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Wolverine mere bystanders. There’s a fun Gag Reel (5:36) and a handful of deleted scenes that should be viewed with Singer’s commentary. (Be warned, just as this became available for sale, it was announced an extended version was to be released next summer, integrating these scenes including the Rogue [Anna Paquin] sub-plot that caused some controversy when dropped.) There are also some nice images from the Trask Industries archives.